Originally published on NJ.com, 07/16/20 by David Menzies. CLICK HERE to read the original article.
Just this week, members of the Jersey City Arts Fund Committee met with the mayor to share the results of a poll they commissioned which showed 60 percent of Jersey City voters support a referendum ballot question establishing a Jersey City Arts Fund, funded by a small house tax (the Jersey City Council set the maximum at 2 cents per $100), being on the November 2020 ballot.
Funding, already an issue pre-pandemic, is one now more than ever.
The directors of some local organizations shared their thoughts on how they’re doing now four months into the pandemic and their outlook for the future. The second in this two-part series includes the directors or co-runners of Eonta Space, the Jersey City Theater Center, and Art House Productions.
Jersey City Theater Center
For Olga Levina, JCTC’s co-founder and artistic director, moving to online programming has been something she’s looking on the bright side of.
“Everything in life is balance. It has its positives, something that we’ve discovered – that we can reach out over the world.”
As they’ve had events like their “Voices From Around the World” festival, which enabled them to learn from international artists, Levina said people who knew nothing about Jersey City have discovered it through their programming.
“For example, if we do some of the programming right now, if it’s something in Greenville we’re trying to use our social media (to spread awareness) because this programming is about social justice and this is in a conversation in our society today. We spend resources on good quality professional actors, and so we try to reach out to audiences all over the country.”
Levina said Zoom and streaming help JCTC keep up with the times. Content comes out year-round now. Before the pandemic, JCTC would generally not have much in the summer because of lower seasonal audience attendance.
But now, with what she said is strong competition that comes from the likes of the Metropolitan Opera, which is streaming programming with their “incredible equipment,” JCTC’s platform has crystallized.
“So I know the competition of course is enormous, but if you have a strong mission and our mission is social justice, you have an opportunity to have each other’s audience through technology.”
Six out of 10 people among JCTC’s usual audience would come back to the theaters straightaway, Levina said. “But it’s probably going to change by January, because Broadway just announced it’s going to open by then, so we’re hoping something is going to change so we can open.
“We also run a tremendous loss in terms of money, but not only revenue from ticket sales. But for me, what I see ... I can imagine how people’s habits change. So we’re going to have to work extra hard to bring people back to theaters to make sure we’re competitive, and in Jersey City and in Hudson County it’s always been a challenge because a lot of (our staff) volunteers and we do it because we love to do what we do …”
She’s hopeful the next generation of artists in Jersey City and the county benefit. Right now, there’s a lack of a stable of professional venues, Levina said.
“You also need qualified people to be competitive. And especially being so close to NYC you have to provide something to the public that is worthwhile. And of course with corona we’re going to have to clean our spaces, we’re going to have to hire people to take temperatures. It’s all extra money”
“I don’t think it’s going to be an easy comeback,” Levina said. “But arts is something that’s worth fighting for at any time. I believe that the human connection we get in theaters … the human expression of art and especially theater is not only expression but also exploration of the human condition, and today like never before you can see how important it is ... If people go to theater they sympathize and they see what others experience and hopefully they change their ways. So we’re going to have to work hard to make sure our art comes back and that we can continue to provide food for thought to people.”
Tucked in the corner of a dead-end street near Journal Square, the Eonta Space home gallery sits eerily bare – and will do so for longer than it has in between shows since it started.
“Eonta Space is on hiatus,” said Dan Peyton, who co-runs Eonta with Lauren Farber and Bayard. “Our program for many reasons rests on the presentation of art in an open accessible place. It is a fusion of artists, curators, food, dialogue and the physical interaction between art and human. Our funding comes from our volunteer co-directors; donated space, donated curation, donated presentation costs.
If we wanted to become virtual we could, but adding our artist’s images to the swipe-left-swipe-right digital culture can’t replicate the actual experience of being in the presence of a work of art. Yes, it is currently the only way to broadcast our existence but we would rather wait and restart when we can be truly open. It means starting from the beginning again and probably working a lot harder to re-attract our audience. But we didn’t start Eonta just to be liked.”
The pandemic has revealed how much the U.S. economy runs on a sense of capitalism that isn’t particularly health-conscious -- along with how much society runs on the labor of essential workers in general. For Eonta Space co-runner Bayard, Eonta’s closed doors seem to be a small act of subversion.
“Virtual shows suck,” Bayard said. “Actual shows rule. Virtual shows are a sad example of our all too prevalent vapid cellphone culture. Don’t be a tool and imagine the internet is nothing more than a tool, a secondary resource not the primal experience. Eonta Space is not now, has never been and will never be concerned with/influenced by or a slave to money or commerce. The pandemic has closed our doors temporarily but not our hearts minds or souls. We are taking this time to reflect, plan and create for a future when the world returns to crazy normal in opposition to this normal crazy. As Aunty Entity says to the citizens of Bartertown in the iconic 1985 film “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”:
“‘Where are you gonna run? Where are you gonna hide? Listen to me! Bartertown will live! Find the little man! Bring him back to me! We will rebuild! For those who took him ... No mercy.' Think of Eonta Space as Aunty Entity, the Jersey City art world as Bartertown. and the little man — well his doppelgänger, your guess is as good as it gets.”
Peyton said that Eonta started as an experiment. It “managed to become something rather special that reminded people amongst other things, that art is not only the province of exclusivity – as in excluding – money and privilege. We also firmly believe that every person is creative and has the right to express themselves regardless of background or education.
“Staying closed for principles alone may be a bit ingenuous today given that the mask wearing years may be upon us for the foreseeable future. Which we wholeheartedly support. So be it. We go with the flow.”
The Eonta Space team does already have ideas for a returning show. “One idea being ‘The Garden of True American Heroes’ which would ask artists to create abstract interpretations of their own heroes. An opportunity to mock the current absurdities, push back against fascist inspired propaganda and to bring artists private inner worlds out into the light of day,” Peyton said.
“So the ideas keep flowing. We wait, and while we turn our minds inward to creating, we beam support and love out into the world.”
Art House Productions
Arts House Productions executive director Meredith Burns said at Monday’s staff meeting they were laughing at how naive they were when people went first into lockdown. Having a regular iteration of their new play festival and their comedy festival in June actually seemed possible.
“‘Well, maybe things will be better by then,‘” said Burns, paraphrasing their early conversations. “‘Maybe we’ll have figured this whole coronavirus situation out. Who knows? Maybe they’ll have a vaccine in three months.
“We were laughing at how naive we were. And now obviously the realistic sort of outlook is that the earliest a vaccine would come into play is October of 2021. And you know the sort of logistics of getting everyone vaccinated is a whole ‘nother issue. The rules for live theater or live performances that more than 50 to 75 to more than 100 people – we’re looking at sort of a few years without those things. I don’t think things are going to die. I think things are going to come back with a real vengeance. I think we’re going to have a newfound appreciation for live performances. Once (audiences) feel safe enough to enjoy those things, they’re really going to soak those things up.”